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National News Release USDL: 00-277
Thursday, Sept. 21, 2000
Contact: Carl Fillichio (202) 693-4650
Susan Hall Fleming (202) 693-1999

Investigation of explosion that killed one worker, injured 69
OSHA PROPOSES $2.5 MILLION PENALTY AGAINST PHILLIPS CHEMICAL COMPLEX IN HOUSTON AREA

Failure to train workers properly was a key factor in a March 27, 2000, explosion and fire at the Phillips Chemical Company's Houston Chemical Complex in Pasadena, Texas, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration concluded following a six-month investigation of the incident. The agency today proposed $2.5 million in penalties for 50 alleged violations of safety standards at the facility.

The plant employs 850 workers who make high quality plastic resins for use in medical and consumer products. One worker died in the explosion and 69 others were injured.

"Unfortunately, this tragedy is not an isolated incident, but one in a series of incidents at this site," said Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman. "Three workers lost their lives in explosions at this plant in less than a year's time, and 23 others were killed in a major explosion in 1989."

OSHA determined that the March explosion took place when a runaway chemical reaction occurred in a tank containing an unknown quantity of butadiene that burst the 12,000-gallon vessel. This explosion resulted in a fire and damage to other nearby chemical tanks. The butadiene tank was out of service for cleaning and had no pressure or temperature gauges that could have alerted workers in the control room to the impending hazard. More importantly, workers had not been trained in safety procedures for handling butadiene, and they were unaware of the potential for explosion. In addition, while the vessel was not in use, butadiene continued to flow into the tank through a non-functioning valve that had not been properly locked out.

OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said, "We have cited similar violations again and again at this plant, yet tragedies continue to occur. What is really needed here is a full reassessment of worker safety and health in all areas of the plant, significantly improved training for employees and a firm commitment from plant and corporate management to make safety an ongoing high priority. We recognize that the plant is now under new ownership, and we look to the new owners to assure that the problems of the past do not continue."

As a result of the inspection, OSHA has alleged 30 willful instance-by-instance violations for failure to train plant operators with a total proposed penalty of $2.1 million ($70,000 per instance); four alleged willful violations of process safety management and lockout/tagout standards with a proposed penalty of $280,000; two alleged repeat violations of the process safety management standard for a proposed penalty of $70,000; 13 alleged serious violations with proposed penalties of $66,000; one other-than-serious violation with a proposed penalty of $1,000 for a total of 50 alleged violations with proposed penalties of $2,517,000.

The agency has inspected this site 46 times, including four inspections in 1999. Three of the 1999 inspections were related to explosions. In June 1999, two workers died in an explosion in the same unit of the plant where the explosion occurred in March this year.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and OSHA regulations. A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard. Repeat violations are those in which an employer has previously been cited within the last three years for the same, or a substantially similar, violation and which has become a final order and not under contest.

The plant, a Phillips Petroleum Company site doing business as Phillips Chemical Company, has been succeeded by Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, LP. The new entity has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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This news release is on the OSHA Internet homepage at http://www.osha.gov.

Information on this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 693-1999.
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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